I like to tell people that my favorite answer to questions, “I don’t know.”
And I think that is a good answer.
-It is honest. No one knows everything and no one knows as much as we think we do.
-It leads to discussion. Giving a direct answer often ends conversation, or leads to argument. Giving a vague, dance around the issue, leads to annoyance.
But I must admit that “I don’t know” can sound dismissive, or desirous of changing the subject. So what are some better answers:
- I don’t know, but will find out. This is one of the standard military responses (along with Yes sir, No sir, No excuse sir.). It is honest, but also shows that one is taking the question seriously. Additionally, it opens the door to another meeting.
- I don’t know… what do you think? This inspires dialogue and shows that one is interested in the other person, and (perhaps) what they believe.
- I don’t know… maybe we can figure this out together. This is similar to the previous one, but is more strongly relational.
I have heard people give confident answers to things where I don’t know would have been so much a better answer, a more honest and respectful answer. But a relational answer is better still.